The Art of Translation

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How much freedom does a translator have when sculpting a literary work into another language?

That seems to be the burning question recently behind Deborah Smith’s “brilliant but flawed translation” of Han Kang’s Man Booker International  Prize-winning novel, The Vegetarian. Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Charse Yun’s article “How the Bestseller ‘The Vegetarian,’ Translated from Han Kang’s Original, Caused an Uproar in South Korea” points out how pundits are now revealing glaring errors, omissions and flat-out additions to Han Kang’s original Korean manuscript.

Justified? Necessary? Helpful for the average English reader?

Yes, says I.

If you’re familiar with older translations of Korean novels, then you’re also familiar with the all-too-familiar feeling of your eyes being gouged out by the words on the page; they’re unnatural, inconsistent, misleading, and confusing much of the time. The result is a hackneyed version of what is purported to be, in its original Korean version, “great” or “incredible” or “fantastic.”

For a closer look at the challenges faced by translators, check out this insightful look into the world of translating Japanese literature into English, specifically the works of Murakami Haruki. The three participants in this email “roundtable” were Philip Gabriel, Murakami translator and professor of Japanese literature at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Jay Rubin, Murakami translator and professor of Japanese literature at Harvard University, and Gary Fisketjon, an editor at Alfred A. Knopf.

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